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Loss of grassland hits the Blue Crane  

This species is being seriously threatened by high mortalities from collisions with power lines and electrocutions on pylons. As a result, its conservation status is “vulnerable” and there are only about 25 000 of these beautiful birds left in South Africa. According to the Overberg Crane Group, a partnership between the Overberg community and CapeNature, past populations were estimated at about 100 000 individual birds. Now, new wind farms will only increase the threat – particularly in the Western Cape, conservationists warn.

Credit:  By John Yeld | Cape Argus | July 2, 2014 | www.iol.co.za ~~

The majestic Blue Crane is South Africa’s national bird and a prized symbol of royalty on the subcontinent.

But some of its movements are still a mystery and this species is being seriously threatened by high mortalities from collisions with power lines and electrocutions on pylons.

As a result, its conservation status is “vulnerable” and there are only about 25 000 of these beautiful birds left in South Africa. According to the Overberg Crane Group, a partnership between the Overberg community and CapeNature, past populations were estimated at about 100 000 individual birds.

Now, new wind farms will only increase the threat – particularly in the Western Cape, conservationists warn.

About half of the Blue Crane population is found in the province’s Overberg and Swartland agricultural regions where, because of changing agricultural practices that support the birds and because of greater conservation awareness, numbers are actually rising.

This is despite an extremely high mortality rate from collisions with powerlines, estimated in a Master’s study at more than 10 percent a year.

“I think the figure was 12 percent,” said Genevieve Jones, who manages research for the African Crane Conservation Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).

There are three crane species in South Africa: the Blue Crane, the critically endangered Wattled Crane and the Grey Crowned Crane, also rated vulnerable.

Jones said the Blue Crane was now facing an additional threat in the province in the form of new wind farms and associated power infrastructure.

“We know the Western Cape is a hot spot for wind turbines and these will, unfortunately, have a negative impact on the birds.”

More powerlines will mean more mortalities, so the trust is raising funds for a research programme that will allow them to monitor cranes’ movements and advise developers and the authorities where wind farms should be sited to have the least possible impact, she explains.

That research will include fitting satellite tracking devices to 15 cranes and employing a PhD student to help develop a conservation strategy – hopefully starting next year.

In the meantime, a local company with farm investments in Blue Crane territory, Fair Cape Dairies, has joined the conservation effort by designating July as “crane-spotting month” and making its Facebook page available where people can record crane sightings. These will be collated and passed on to the trust.

Through its social responsibility programme, the company wanted to make “a real and meaningful difference”, said marketing director Louis Loubser, “and that includes playing our part to ensure that our magnificent national bird graces our farmlands for generations to come”.

Jones said the trust supported this initiative. “If we can start identifying important crane areas now, that will also be a useful start for when we get someone on the ground,” she said.

* On the web: https://www.facebook.com/faircape; www.ewt.org.za

FACTBOX

– The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) is what’s known as a “near-endemic” to South Africa, with a small isolated population of about 60 to 80 birds found around Namibia’s Etosha Pan and a few isolated birds occurring in Botswana and Swaziland.

– It is the most range-restricted of the world’s 15 crane species, and is rare in most parts of South Africa.

– Historically, Blue Cranes occurred mainly in the grassland biome along the eastern section of the country. However, the loss of the natural grasslands in the Free State, Northern Province, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, and the replacement of the natural vegetation with wheat and dryland pastures in the Western Cape’s Swartland and Overberg regions, have changed the distribution and demographics of the Blue Crane population.

– Other than the Western Cape, the bird’s only other current strongholds are in the central Karoo, and in the eastern section of the country that includes the southern parts of Mpumalanga, the north-eastern Free State and parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

– In Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga numbers have declined drastically, by as much as 75-95 percent.

* Source: Overberg Crane Group, http://www.bluecrane.org.za/

Source:  By John Yeld | Cape Argus | July 2, 2014 | www.iol.co.za

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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